05 November 2021, The Tablet

Bishops urged to treat priests better

Bishops urged to treat priests better

Priests gathered to give out Holy Communion During Mass at Knock, Ireland.
File pic by Tim Graham/Alamy

The Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland has pledged to hold a number of bishops to account over their treatment of some priests, including overworked elderly priests and gay priests who they have refused to allow work in parishes.

The ACP said that as an association founded to represent and defend priests, it has seen an increase in complaints about the way some bishops are treating some priests.

The complaints have been made by both members and non-members of the association, which represents over a third of priests In Ireland.

The ACP underlined that most Irish bishops have a “respectful engagement” with their priests and whatever concerns or difficulties they have.

However, the group said there is a small number of bishops and archbishops who “consistently represent” the vast majority of complaints being received from priests.

The statement highlighted some of the cases the ACP Is concerned about. These include priests being told that they have to take responsibility for another parish at short notice, without any effort on the part of the bishop to explain the situation to parishioners, apart from a letter to be read out by the priest “who is left to his own devices to negotiate the extra workload”.

The ACP also expressed concern around priests who take some time out and are then not allowed to resume active ministry. “Some have been coerced and bullied into leaving the priesthood against their wishes while others have been forced to make an inappropriate public confession contingent on a continuation in ministry”.

Another concern relates to priests who are gay being refused permission to work in parishes while in other dioceses they are treated as equal and valued members of the priesthood.

The demands on the mental or physical health of priests remaining in full-time priestly work who are not being allowed to retire until they reach 75 was another issue the ACP highlighted.

In one diocese, the ACP had to provide legal redress for a priest on sick leave who wasn’t paid his salary for two years. In another diocese, a priest who was out of ministry was not given accommodation and had to live with members of his family.

Priests also spoke to the ACP about their bishops commenting disparagingly on their personal appearance and active ministry and as a result, felt their confidence undermined and their pastoral effectiveness diminished.

The ACP highlighted the plight of priests who have no accusation against them being forced out of priesthood on the basis of a bishop’s decision that it is ‘the ‘best thing‘ for them.

The ACP said that as an association committed to supporting priests in need, it is “prepared to challenge bishops who fail to live up to their responsibility as bishops which is to be shepherds to their priests as well as to their people”.

The issue of bishops’ treatment of priests Is to be discussed at the ACP's AGM on 10 November in Athlone.

Speaking to The Tablet, Fr Tim Hazelwood, a spokesperson for the ACP said: “Priests in Ireland are getting older. The expectations is that they will take on extra parishes. In the workplace, for most people, there is a union where you can go and make a complaint. We don't have that.”

He said as part of the culture within the priesthood there was an understanding that priests are “obedient and that you will stay quiet. You are seen as the troublemaker if you say anything”.

He criticised diocesan priests’ councils, the place where the concerns of priests are supposed to be brought up, but said they were places where these concerns “were not represented at all” because most of the priests in the council were appointees of the bishop.

Fr Hazelwood, who is a parish priest in the Diocese of Cloyne, said the ACP had fallen into the role of defending priests’ rights because “priests came to us because they had no place to turn to”.

He said the association had noticed the number of priests complaining was increasing. “We have noticed it is getting worse.”

Speaking about the case of a priest who was forced out of priesthood by his bishop, the parish priest explained, “There was no accusation against him, the bishop just wanted to get rid of him. He doesn't like him. It’s appalling.”

He appealed to bishops to “change the way they interact and deal with their priests”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99